Monday, November 26, 2007

The Golden Compass

Being the incredibly fast reader that I am - NOT! - I'm only now getting to my book review for 'The Golden Compass' by Philip Pullman for Kailana's Four-Legged Friend Reading Challenge. I started the book in October and finished it just about the time that my gram went into hospital on November 7th.

No one should ever judge how much I enjoyed a book by how long it took me to read it. In fact, I often put off finishing a book when I really like it because I hate leaving that world behind. I'll start another book and keep the last 20 pages of the one I need to finish like a last delicious morsel to be savoured.

I'd been wanting to read this book for awhile, and Kailana's challenge was the impetus I needed to crack open that book spine and dive in. First published in 1995, as most of you know it will be released as a film next month. I cannot WAIT!

This is the cover of the book I read. I often gazed at the illustration which I really loved. Winner of the Carnegie Medal, this book is absolutely phenomenal. It reminded me a lot of my beloved Amber series in the way it presents our Earth as merely a ripple dimension, one of countless other dimensions which coexist without most of us knowing about the others.

Main character Lyra Belacqua is a girl growing up in an Oxford University-like setting called Jordan College, raised by academics and visited occasionally by her remote, fierce explorer uncle Lord Asriel. Lyra presides over a child culture of servants and gyptians, waging war on each other, honing her natural leadership despite her guardians' best efforts to remind her she's a young lady.

In Lyra's world, humans each have daemons which accompany them through life. Adults' daemons solidify into one form, while childrens' daemons change theirs according to the untamed passions of the young. Lord Asriel's, for example, is a snow leopard. The unnerving Mrs. Coulter's daemon is a cruel golden monkey. Lyra's daemon Pantalaimon often settles into an ermine, but becomes a bird, rabbit or even a moth. These daemons house the soul of the human and cannot be separated.

Lyra gets caught up in events with terrifying consequences for every child in her world. Mrs. Coulter works with the Church to eradicate Dust, which in this dimension emanates from the Northern Lights and seems to be connected to original sin. Lyra embarks on her journey armed with an alethiometer, a truth-telling device somewhat like a Tarot deck which only Lyra can decipher. She tries to rescue her Jordan College friend Roger from the Gobblers, who have been kidnapping children and taking them to the far north.

Lyra is such a heartbreaking character - her bravery really moved me so many times. The stakes in this novel are astronomical, yet placed at the feet of this bold little girl. And Lyra is up to the task in a humbling and completely believably way.

The reason I chose this for the first in my Four-Legged Friends Reading Challenge was the armored polar bear character Iorek Byrnison. I had no idea about the animal daemon characters which pepper the book, soon realizing I'd chosen a novel packed with four-legged friends. Iorek Byrnison is another character that had me in tears toward the end. His loyalty, courage and nobility are truly unforgettable.

I can't tell you how grateful I am that the film version is only weeks away. The image of Daniel Craig as Lord Asriel never left my mind as I read the book!

And to sound off on the ridiculous controversy about a supposed stealth campaign to promote atheism:

The book indeed paints the Church of the novel's dimension as a Spanish Inquisition-type entity. I have no idea what bearing this has on our Earth's actual church communities. I could potentially see people who are pathologically rigid being distressed by the philosophical subtexts present in the novel, where the scholarly academics are trying to preserve their autonomy from Mrs. Coulter's Church. Apart from that, I sometimes wonder if these so-called Christian protestors even read their New Testaments. More to the point, I sometimes wonder if these 'Christians' even read. They seem to me to be filled with hatred, and one can only wonder what goes through their minds as they charge throughout the world throwing stones at Mary Magdalens.

Case in point: this article from an online news site called AC Associated Content contains several utter fabrications that should embarass these rumour mongers, though I know that's not possible. Total lie number 1 - "For instance, in the movie the children set out to kill God, and when they do they go about life doing whatever they want."

Huh?!? In the book, on which the film is based, the children set out to rescue kidnapped children, who are being experimented upon by the Magisterium, the Church of the fictional other dimension. How this becomes children setting out to kill God is beyond my feeble powers of imagination.

Complete lie number 2 - "If you Google the synopsis of the book version you will read such topic as castration and female circumcision. Whether these concepts enter the movie series I don't know, but why would you want to take your kids to learn something like that."

I can happily assure all of you that there is neither castration nor female circumcision in 'The Golden Compass.' But it does relieve me that people who didn't read the book took time out of their day to bombard emails all over North America to warn people of nonexistant evils in Philip Pullman's exquisite fantasy novel.